Maharashtra claims to have 45% urban population – one of the largest among Indian states. But rural Maharashtra has been infamous for farmer suicides and gender disparity at its peak. However, a bunch of women are coming forward to build economic strength and gender equality at grass-roots in the State. MAKERS India takes a look at a few of them.
(Data and photo courtesy: Collective Impact Partnership, a collaboration of five organisations - Rise Up, How Women Lead, Public Health Institute, Global Fund for Women, and World Pulse.)
Shilpa Kashelkar is the Project Manager at Development Initiative for Self Help and Awakening (DISHA) in Pune. Over the last 20 years, Shilpa has worked with HIV positive groups, LGBTQ populations, and sex workers in Mumbai’s slums. She has also worked with Muslim women for law reform and justice throughout India.
Presently she is guiding a leadership development program for women in SHGs. She is also active in a Rotary cow project, where she enables women to be active in decision making and financial matters in cow rearing process. Shilpa is also a visiting faculty at the College of Social Work, Mumbai University.
Kajal Jain is a Program Coordinator at Mahila Sarvangeen Utkarsh Mandal (MASUM), a 33-year-old NGO based in Pune. At MASUM, she has been in charge of women’s health program, especially reproductive health and family planning, for nine years.
Initially her work had focused on nutrition and sanitation; but once saw that poverty directly impacts women’s health, her approach changed. Today, she empowers women to articulate their needs and demand their rights. She helps women across 50 villages with access to local village councils and government schemes. She also oversees self-help groups, linking them to other organizations, banks, and CSR support.
Nanda Gaikwad is the District Coordinator for Janawadi Rural Development in Parbhani, Maharashtra. As village chief from 2005 to 2010 and later, she has worked with women’s groups, elected representatives, organizations fighting child labour, counselling centers, and organic farmers.
Nanda has also worked with single women’s groups and advocated for their rights. Her organization has held public meetings on removing the taboo of second marriages for divorced, separated, and widowed women. She has worked with young people to conduct safety audits at schools, and taken recommendations to make schools safer for girls, to the local police and the Education ministry.
Malti Sagane is the State Convener of Mahila Rajsatta Andolan under the Resource and Support Centre for Development (RSCD) in Maharashtra. Her primary role is training elected women officials to understand their roles, duties, rights, and responsibilities. For this purpose, she has created manuals and training systems on the budget process, as well as a three-month village plan for elected women officials.
Additionally, she works with women village chiefs and connects women’s groups to policy-makers. In one of the villages she has worked in, she brought the gram panchayat and police together to address the issue of lack of electricity.
Ratnamala Sudesh Vaidhya
Ratnamala Sudesh Vaidhya is the Regional Coordinator at Mahila Raisatta Andolan in Nagpur. An elected representative at the village level, she works with elected women officials and women from the community to facilitate collaboration between the two. She is especially interested in working with educated young women to foster public engagement, and works with a youth group.
Ratnamala has successfully advocated for women’s access to water and free transit passes for women. She believes that working with local elected members of the panchayat is important, since they can help in dealing with red tape and providing funds for women’s groups.
Manisha Tokale is the President of Jagan Pratishtan in Beed District, Maharashtra. An activist for gender equality and Dalit rights, she has worked for farmers’ rights, sex workers’ rights, women’s reproductive health, as well as against child marriage and bonded labour. Manisha has also worked with Dalit women on organic farming models, and is a state-level advocate on the Forest Rights Act.
Her organization has received the Padmashri Karmaveer Dadasaheb Gaikwad Award from Maharashtra government in recognition of their work procuring land rights for Dalits. Manisha has received the state government’s Ahilyadwi Holkar Award, for her work on women’s empowerment.
Pratibha Ukey is the Project Coordinator at Prakriti Resource centre for Women and Development in Nagpur. Her work is centred on the Gandhian ideology of rural development along with gender equality. Since 1998, she has worked in underdeveloped Indian villages, and has enabled exchange between rural and urban youngsters through fellowships.
She has also worked with Prakriti’s program to promote economic self-reliance of women through self-help groups (SHGs). Under Prakriti, Pratibha has also been working with women farmers as well as with single women to advocate for their rights and safeguard their succession rights, fair representation in decision-making bodies etc.